Military history revisted

2016-09-27 13:23

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A heritage route to uncover the Cape’s military history has been launched.

During an event on Heritage Day (Saturday 24 September), the City of Cape Town announced its Military Heritage Route, which will include museums featuring the city’s military history.

The City’s Mayco member for tourism, events and economic development, Eddie Andrews, says the route was identified as a niche market in the consultation and research process of the tourism development framework for the City.

“Tourism routes or networks have been identified as a tool for local economic development and can contribute towards social development of communities and conservation of the natural environment. Linking sites of military significance and heritage assists the sites in reaching interested visitors to the others that they might not have known about,” he says.

The route is set to include sites such as the Castle of Good Hope and Chavonnes Battery Museum. Other sites are being prepared to be part of the route, Andrews says.

The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving building in South Africa and has been the centre of civilian, political and military life in the Cape since 1666, Andrews says.

“In its current state, the Castle is considered to be one of the best examples of preserved 17th century Dutch East India Company architecture in the world. The Castle is currently undergoing renovation – for the first time in 20 years – which will further enhance its appeal and position to become South Africa’s next Unesco World Heritage Site.”
Castle board CEO, Calvyn Gilfellan, says the history of the Cape, South Africa and Africa is one of armed colonial conquest.

“But even before the Europeans came, the indigenous people have been warring over cattle, water holes, women, children and the like. In the case of the Cape, the first recorded historic 1510 battle at Table Bay, where indigenous Khoi warriors defeated Portuguese viceroy Francisco d’ Almeida and his army of 60 men because the latter stole cattle and abducted children, set the scene for a military heritage that is complex, intricate and multi-dimensional,” he says.

The philosophy behind a military heritage route is to acknowledge the critical role – good, bad and ugly – the military played in the shaping of the South African geographical, political, social and economic landscape, Gilfellan says.

“The idea is not to glorify any of the eras, armies, sites or battlefields, but to expose a critical citizenry to their collective past in order to move towards a better, brighter and hopefully war-free future.”

Also included in the route is the South African Naval Museum, Andrews says.

“Situated in South Africa’s main naval port of Simon’s Town, the South African Naval Museum pays homage to the country’s naval history. It also includes glimpses into modern naval operations, with models of submarines, a life-size submarine control room, naval guns, torpedoes and more.”

Commander Leo Steyn, officer in charge of the Naval Museum, says the route will look to uncover the Cape’s “layered history”.

“In many cases we provide emphasis to certain layers of this history. Robben Island is a good example, where a lot of emphasis are placed on certain aspects; the political or struggle history, in that case, which is all good and well, but we know there is more to that. It is therefore welcoming that a much neglected part of the Cape’s heritage are receiving attention again, certainly in terms of tourism exposure. The Cape’s military heritage, dates back more than 350 years and encompassed a vast amount of ‘must see’ and in many cases ‘overlooked’ history and heritage.”

Military history in the Cape is interlinked with other aspects of heritage, Steyn explains.

“One piece of history relates to another. History and heritage are not the core business of the SA Navy, they have other commitments, like to keep ships at sea. Therefore it is good that we can form a partnership with City of Cape Town and private partners like tour operators. The more people or visitors we get at the Naval Museum and other museums in Simon’s Town, the more awareness are created for the town and the SA Navy.”

The route is available as a self-drive route, and tourist guides and operators also offer this as a product, Andrews explains. “(The route) will increase visitor numbers, add to our heritage product offering, and enable us to include more sites over time based on learning experiences from the existing three sites.”

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